We'll always have Stratford
The room was dim with only a little light filtering through the drawn curtains but when Hermione looked at her watch she saw that it was a few minutes to two in the afternoon.
Gingerly she left the bed. Looking down on herself she found that someone had put her in a rather old-fashioned nightdress. Slowly she went towards the window and opened one of the curtains, squinting against the sudden light which was magnified by the sunlit snow surrounding the house.
She wasn't dead, and she was in Snape's house. So McGonagall and Flitwick must have taken her there, and the potion had obviously worked. At least for her. But what about Snape?
Feeling sickening apprehension, Hermione quickly turned to her clothes which had been cleaned and put on a chair. When she moved there was a dull soreness in her body, but apart from that she felt fine. She dressed quickly, left the room and went to Snape's bed room. But when she knocked and entered she found it empty.
Quickly Hermione went on to his study. And there he was, sitting in the familiar armchair, a cup of tea and a teapot on the table next to him.
"You are fine," Hermione said, standing in the doorway and grinning stupidly with joy but not minding it.
"I am," he replied calmly. "And so are you, as I can see. Please, sit down."
She took a seat in the chair opposite of him, her eyes riveted on his face. He still looked pale and there were deep lines in his face, but his eyes were shining brightly and his hands didn't shake anymore.
Noticing her searching look, he said dryly, "Rest assured, you don't look much better than I do."
Hermione shrugged her shoulders, still smiling. "At least we're still alive."
"Yes indeed." Snape reached out for another teacup. "Drink this," he said, pouring her a cup. "Doctor's orders. Poppy is coming at three to check on us."
"So how are we?" Hermione asked, reached for the cup and took a careful sip. It was better than she had expected, the bitter taste of herbs masked by honey.
"A bit the worse for wear," Snape replied. "As you will undoubtedly have noticed, there is some residual pain. It should be gone in a few days. Poppy also assures me that there should be no further after-effects."
"Glad to hear it." Hermione took another sip, then looked at Snape over the rim of the cup. "It was a close call, wasn't it?" she asked quietly.
"It was. When Minerva and Filius came with the blood samples, I was barely alive. How long you would have lasted I don't know. But tell me how you got Livia's blood."
Hermione told him.
"You were lucky," Snape stated when she had finished.
"Yes I was. Especially that McGonagall and Flitwick showed up. What happened to Livia and Constantine?"
A grim smile tucked at Snape's mouth. "Dumbledore sent some of the Order to collect them. They're interrogated now. Azkaban should be next."
"I'm glad this is over," Hermione said emphatically.
"So am I."
Hermione looked down on the cup in her hands. Outwardly they were having just a normal conversation, but there was so much that wasn't said. Extraordinary things had happened during the last hours, and while they hadn't had time yet to come to terms with them, they couldn't be ignored. There were things she needed to know, questions that were hanging over them but Hermione was afraid to address them because she didn't know what would happen if she did.
"Thank you for saving my life," Snape suddenly said.
Hermione's eyes jerked up. "Well, it was the least I could do," she replied, the lightness of her voice sounding forced. "You saved mine first." She grimaced. "I'd say we are even."
Snape inclined his head a little. "If you say so. But I won't forget what you did." There was a curious expression in his dark eyes and Hermione looked down on her cup again.
"Why did you do it?" She asked. "Drink the potion, I mean. What happened really after Livia put the Cruciatus on me?"
"Not all that much," he replied in a dispassionate voice. Hermione looked up and he lightly shook his head. "No, really. Livia was afraid that Dumbledore might be able to locate us, and so she proposed a deal to me. If I drank the potion she wouldn't harm you. And I believed her," he said with a bitter snort. "Well, actually I didn't have much of a choice."
Snape met her eyes. "It was my fault that you were in this situation," he said levelly. "It was my fight. I couldn't let you die for me." He hesitated, then went on, "Trust me, I've felt enough guilt in my life, I didn't want any more of that."
He held her gaze a few seconds longer, than reached for the tea pot and refilled his cup.
"I heard of your success with the Anti-Werewolf-Potion," Hermione said after a few moments of silence. "It must have been much work."
"Yes, it was."
"So are you any further finding a potion that will heal werewolves for good?"
Snape stirred his tea. Suddenly he seemed strangely reluctant. "I've made some progress."
"Perhaps I could help you again?"
They both fell silent and Hermione stared down on her tea, wondering why he was withdrawing again.
"McGonagall sends her greetings," Snape abruptly stated. "She invites you to Hogwarts for Christmas. She says she'll send you a proper invitation soon."
Hermione looked up again, glad that Snape had obviously found a subject he was willing to talk about. "Indeed. Did she invite you, too?"
"And are you coming?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so."
Silence descended again and once more Hermione was trying to find out where their conversation had gone wrong. Why was he closing up again? It was exasperating, really. After all that had happened during the last hours she had thought that there was a connection between them. That she meant something to him. That at least they might take up their friendship where they had left it off before that incident in September. But it seemed she had to be in mortal peril before he'd shed his distancing armour.
"I also wanted to apologize," Snape suddenly went on. "For keeping you in the dark."
Hermione was surprised at his words. "Thank you," she said, feeling strangely happy.
Snape made a jerking movement with his right hand. "I am sorry I hurt you. It wasn't something I enjoyed."
Hermione looked at him, trying to read his face but, as so often, failing. Did you mean any of the things you said then? She thought. Snape's words were still painfully present to her – "Your…advances…are unwished for," he had spat. "You were deluded by alcohol and emotional need. And it is ridiculous to think I could ever feel anything for you." How much of this had he truly meant?
"Thank you," she repeated softly. "I have thought about it and I know why you did it. You just wanted to keep me safe – which doesn't mean that I think that it was right, mind you." She grimaced. "But actually I did something rather similar to my parents when I modified their brains without telling them, so I can understand your reasons."
There was a look of relief in his eyes and he seemed to relax.
Hermione looked down on her hands for a few moments, wondering if she should say what was on her mind. "There's something I wanted to ask you," she finally went on, raising her eyes again.
"The things you said…in September…when you threw me out… Did you mean them?"
She felt very nervous, observing Snape's face for any reaction. His eyes widened for the fraction of a second, then the emotionless mask was back in place. "We shouldn't talk about that now," he said quietly, reaching for his teacup, his hair falling down to shade his face.
Hermione felt frustrated. "As you wish," she said curtly. She watched Snape, the controlled movements of his hands and the stiffness of his body, and suddenly she wanted nothing more than to elicit a reaction from him, a real reaction not this controlled charade.
Leaning slightly forward, catching his gaze when he looked up again and meeting it squarely, she added, "In July...after that night in Stratford…did you perform a memory charm on me?"
His face tensed but this time he didn't evade her eyes. "Yes."
Hermione felt her heart beat faster. "That explains a lot," she said tentatively and with a wry smile. "Why did you do that?"
Snape gave a short, harsh laugh. "Merlin, Hermione! Isn't that obvious?" He stared at her, his eyes very dark. "I took advantage of you when you were under great emotional stress and the influence of alcohol. I acted despicably. And I didn't want to face the consequences. It was pure cowardice and shame that made me tamper with your brain."
Hermione shook her head vehemently. "That's not what happened," she said, her heart hammering like mad but her voice steady. "Why is it so hard for you to believe that I wanted it? That I might actually…like you?"
For a second she thought that Snape's eyes widened in surprise, but immediately his face went back to the composed mask she knew so well. He was very still, staring at her. "You hardly know me," he finally stated in a clipped tone.
Hermione held his gaze, her heart still racing. "I've known you since I was a child. You saved my life, twice. You were willing to die for me. I think that's all I need to know."
Snape's expression changed subtly, his face growing stony. He shook his head. "You don't know the things I've done," he said in a flat voice.
Hermione raised her chin in defiance. "Then why don't you tell me?"
"Oh no." For a second his mask slipped and Hermione saw fear in his eyes.
"I won't think less of you no matter what you did."
"Yes, you will."
She stared at Snape, frustrated by his behaviour and aching for him. "So you're saying that after all that happened – after all you've done for me – that's just it?" she finally asked. "That we will meet once a year in Stratford? Perhaps write letters from time to time?"
Snape's face was unreadable again. "If you want that."
"Good God, Severus," Hermione burst out, her voice sounding harsh in her ears, "you know that's not what I want. Why can't you ever let go of your dispassionate mask? Why do you always have to pretend?"
He didn't reply, just held her gaze with his dark eyes.
"I think I'll go and look for Rose now," Hermione said quietly after a while and got up. "I'll see you later, Severus."
And she went and left the room.